Rap, other music, and social change

This music video from the USA is called The Coup: “Fat Cats And Bigga Fish“. Directed by: Andrei Rozen.

By Derek Wall in Britain:

Time for The Coup

Thursday 12th December 2013

DEREK WALL is mesmerised by a band that that makes radical politics its sole raison d’etre

Music divides the left but, to misquote Lenin, “without revolutionary music, there can be no revolutionary movement.”

Many of my friends like folk music, but it isn’t my thing. I have a colleague whose political views I respect but not his affection for the Irish boy band Westlife.

Many of the left take inspiration from Paul Robeson, who was both a wonderful singer and a socialist.

Theodore Adorno may have been a prominent left intellectual but his contention that jazz was a melody of impotence can be challenged as sexist and ignorant.

The greatest filmmaker of them all, Jean Luc Godard, combined an affection for Mao with an appreciation of Mozart.

There have been plenty of socialist musicians from Billy Bragg to the inspiring Gang Of Four to former YCL member Green Gartside‘s Scritti Politti.

Scritti Politti is a literal translation of “political writings” and inspired by Gramsci became part of the 1980s pop mainstream.

So what do I like? Well, I like Marxist rap.

From the golden age of Public Enemy onwards there have been strains of rap that are revolutionary rather than reactionary. However, the two classic Marxist rap bands as all connoisseurs will tell you are Marxman and the Coup.

Marxman, alas, are no longer with us but tracks like Sad Affair, dealing with the British occupation of Ireland and All About Eve, which challenges domestic violence, remain highly recommended.

I guess it depends where you draw the line between rap and other genres such as funk and where socialist, radical and revolutionary labels differ or overlap, but there is no doubt in my mind that the premier Marxist rap band are the Coup from Oakland, California.

Politically active since the age of 14, Boots Riley founded in 1991 the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective – named after the Kenyan anti-colonial movement of the 1950s – as a way of using music to promote political organising.

In 1992 he moved on to create the Coup with Pam the Funkstress and other associates. Pam is also a DJ and runs a catering business in north California.

Boots, a well-known political organiser, an advocate of Mumia Abu-Jamal and other African-American revolutionaries, has been active in Occupy Oakland.

Over the last few weeks he and the rest of the Coup have been performing in support of the fast food strike sweeping the US, where low-paid McDonalds workers have been organising for higher pay. Boots’s solidarity video can be seen here.

This video from the USA is called Boots Riley Of “The Coup” Joins Oakland McDonald’s Fast Food Workers Action.

The Coup combine rap and hip hop with some serious funk and a punk sensibility. Boots Riley is a poet who manufactures some cutting lyrics. Their music videos are also worth a watch.

The track which is most easily defined as rap is Dig it which references Frantz Fanon‘s Wretched Of The Earth, the Mau Mau, Che, Mao, N’Krumah and H Rap Brown, while cursing Columbus.

I would recommend that all Star readers wanting some additional Marxist music education to take a listen to the band’s 2012 album Sorry to Bother You.

All 13 tracks are, in my opinion, a delight. However, three really stand out. The Magic Clap refers to the mysterious moment when revolution breaks out and radical change ensues, noting that class struggle is “the motor” that makes history move.

The Guillotine is both a call to class warfare and reference to the collapse of the banking system. “If you press your ear to the turf that is stolen / You can hear the sound of limitations exploding.”

Strange Arithmetic looks at the education system showing how learning is made to serve capitalism instead of liberation thus: “English is the art of bombing towns / While assuring that you really only blessed the ground.” Economics is, in turn, “the symphony of hunger and theft.”

With a back catalogue that includes numbers such as Me And Jesus The Pimp In A ’79 Granada Last Night and Five Million Ways To Kill A CEO, what is not to like?

Boots’s many political statements and interviews are worth a look. Proud to call himself a communist, he taps into deep cultural roots including a love of Robeson.

He is very clear about his politics: “There is a war on the working class …. it’s capitalism.” And in a recent interview he observed: “the workers have the power.”

The power of music as a force for social change cannot be ignored. From Victor Jara to John Lennon and beyond, it provides a rhythm for revolution. The Coup are representative of a tradition that combines music with solid political organising. Their music and militancy is inspirational.

For more about the Coup why not start with their Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheCoup.

9 thoughts on “Rap, other music, and social change

  1. Pingback: Paul Robeson sings Joe Hill | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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